Hong Kong to hold more events to boost tourism, consumption: chief executive

Visitors enjoy the fireworks that lights up the night sky over Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong on May 1,2024. Photo: VCG

Visitors enjoy the fireworks that lights up the night sky over Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong on May 1,2024. Photo: VCG

 

The chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) announced on Tuesday that the city will hold 60 more major events in 2024, in a bid to attract more tourists, boost consumption and lift the regional economy. 

The announcement comes as the Chinese central government has also taken steps to boost visits to Hong Kong and Macao. The plan to hold more promotional events will help the HKSAR to improve the competitiveness of its tourism industry, and attract more visits from both the Chinese mainland and other areas, experts said.

The number of major events for the whole year will increase from 150 to over 210, with 1.7 million tourists expected, John Lee Ka-chiu, the HKSAR chief executive, told reporters in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

In the second half of the year, 100 events are planned, including entertainment expos and fashion weeks. These events are forecast to generate HK$7.2 billion ($923.58 million) in consumption and add HK$4.3 billion in economic value for the city, according to Lee. 

Hong Kong recorded 14.62 million visitors in the first four months of 2024, doubling the number from the same period last year, which will push HK’s GDP up 0.1 percent for every increase of 1.5 million visitors, Lee said on Tuesday. 

Lee highlighted the sharp rise in mainland tourists visiting Hong Kong, stressing its positive impact on the events economy. To capitalize on this, the SAR government will continue to request more favorable policies from the central government, such as increasing the tax-free quota for mainland visitors to boost retail, particularly luxury goods sales. 

The Chinese central government has also taken major steps to support visits to Hong Kong and Macao, including extending the duration of business visits from seven days per visit to 14 days.  

Furthermore, Lee emphasized Hong Kong’s increasing hospitality capacity. Also, its aviation sector is expected to fully recover by year-end, attracting a greater number of long-haul travelers. 

Lee stated that around 1,600 tour groups joined the local cultural tourism program organized by the government. Over 700 new itinerary routes were created through the tourism competition hosted by the Hong Kong Tourism Council. He highlighted ongoing innovation and adaptation in Hong Kong’s tourism and related sectors. 

The SAR government’s “First Quarter Economic Report for 2024” revealed modest growth in Hong Kong’s economy, with real GDP up 2.7 percent year-on-year. Service exports, especially in tourism and transportation, drove this growth, rising over 8 percent due to increased visitor arrivals. 

In the past two years, there has been a decline in cultural and tourism spending in Hong Kong. Even local residents are increasingly opting to travel to mainland destinations like Shenzhen due to lower prices and convenient transportation, market observers said.

“Increasing events to boost consumption may be a long-term method. The government aims to redirect local spending back to Hong Kong while boosting confidence among all tourists, refocusing attention on the city,” Song Ding, a research fellow from the China Development Institute, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

“Due to the importance of tourists from the mainland, Hong Kong needs to optimize its tourism market structure and enhance its competitiveness to attract more visitors and boost spending,” said Adolph Leung Wing-sing, an official from HK’s Office of the Government Economist (OGE). 

“Hong Kong is a uniquely attractive tourist destination, combining Chinese tradition with Western charm as an international city. The added events amplify its distinctiveness and boost its competitiveness. I believe more tourists, both domestic and international, will visit in the future,” Jiang Yiyi, a vice president of the School of Leisure Sports and Tourism at Beijing Sport University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Foreigners zoom into Chinese tourism market during May Day holidays

Foreign tourists visit a Zhangjiajie scenic spot in Central China's Hunan Province on May 4, 2024. Photo: VCG

Foreign tourists visit a Zhangjiajie scenic spot in Central China’s Hunan Province on May 4, 2024. Photo: VCG

As the five-day May Day holidays came to an end on Sunday, China welcomed a bustling inbound tourism sector thanks to the country’s cost-effective tour products as well as improved measures for foreign visitors, including visa-free policies and optimized payment services.

Experts said that booming tourism during the May Day holidays confirmed the attractiveness of the Chinese market for overseas travelers, and the improving environment for foreigners further showcased the country’s commitment to opening-up.

According to a report sent to the Global Times on Sunday, Trip.com said that inbound tour bookings increased by 105 percent year-on-year with the remarkable effect of the visa-free policies. 

Tourists from the 12 countries for which China unilaterally waived visas, along with Singapore and Thailand, which have mutual visa exemptions with China, increased by about 2.5 times year-on-year, read the report. Among Chinese provincial capital cities, inbound tour orders grew faster in Urumqi, Xi’an, Hangzhou, Kunming, Hefei and Chengdu.

Walking on the street, people could see UK tourists wearing traditional Chinese hanfu for travel photos at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. In Dongxing, South China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Vietnamese tourists took a bus to visit the cultural bazaar, enjoying a different journey involving China-Vietnam border customs.

“During a trip with my friends, I took a leisurely stroll around Jinhai Lake in the Pinggu district of Beijing. It was a breathtaking experience, immersed in the natural beauty of China. Green spaces surrounded the lake, and fresh breezes filled the air, creating a serene atmosphere,” Ahmed Abdellah Faris, a journalist from Egypt, told the Global Times on Sunday.

China’s mobile payment system is extremely convenient, with WeChat Pay and Alipay offering both ease of use and security. Additionally, Beijing, as an international metropolis, widely accepts Visa payments, providing numerous options for foreigners, he added.

“I also appreciate Beijing’s subway system, which is extensive and affordable, with most trains maintained in a clean condition. Subway staff members readily provided directions in English, museum guides offered high-quality English explanations, and restaurant owners inquired whether we followed Muslim dietary restrictions. These thoughtful details made me feel warmly welcome in Beijing,” he said.

The development of inbound tourism not only serves as a symbol of China’s opening-up, but also marks the country’s transition from being a major tourist destination to becoming a power in the global tourism arena, Jiang Yiyi, a vice president of the School of Leisure Sports and Tourism at Beijing Sport University, told the Global Times on Sunday.

In addition to visa-free measures and an array of measures to help foreigners enjoy a hassle-free payment environment, the restoration of international flights is progressing steadily. 

“In the first half of this year, I believe that the country has resumed more than 80 percent of the international routes, compared with pre-pandemic levels,” Jiang said.

Outbound trips were also in the spotlight. According to Trip.com, Chinese outbound tours covered nearly 200 countries during these five days, with Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea becoming popular destinations. 

The tourism growth rate for countries in the Middle East such as Oman, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait was higher, with a year-on-year increase of more than three times.

On Saturday, the Cuban government announced that it will adopt a visa-free policy for Chinese citizens holding ordinary passports starting from May, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday.

“China has been one of the world’s biggest outbound tourism markets, making a substantial contribution to global tourism development, particularly in the post-pandemic recovery period. Outbound tourism has played a significant role in promoting economic development and offering job opportunities in many countries,” Jiang said.

Steven Alan Barnett, senior IMF resident representative in China, said on April 24 at the launch of the IMF World Economic Outlook in Beijing that China will continue to be the main driver of the global economy, contributing one-quarter to the world’s GDP. 

Sanya and Dubai join forces to provide culinary masterpieces

Chef Ali El Bourji from Atlantis Dubai is invited to present authentic Dubai cuisine in Sanya, Hainan province. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

The “Encountering Marvels of Mountains & Seas” themed event kicked off in Sanya, South China’s Hainan province on Wednesday.

The highlight of the event is “A Bite in Two Cities”, which is being jointly held by the two renowned resorts – Atlantis Sanya and Atlantis Dubai – for the first time, offering guests a feast of authentic cuisine from both cities.

Arabic executive chef Ali El Bourji from Atlantis Dubai was invited to present authentic Dubai cuisine in Sanya, featuring delicacies such as chicken tagine, authentic Lebanese fattoush salad.

The Dubai Food Festival in Sanya will last for two weeks, including the entire May Day Golden Week.

According to Dubai Tourism Board, gourmet cuisine is one of Dubai’s proud features and “The Michelin Guide Dubai 2023” features 90 restaurants spanning 23 different cuisines, and Dubai restaurants claimed 18 spots in the top 50 of the 2024 Middle East and North Africa Best Restaurants Awards; all these achievements combined highlight Dubai’s status as a culinary hub.

Both Sanya and Dubai are renowned cities for their abundant tourism resources and internationalized services. “A Bite in Two Cities” is a tourism marketing and promotion event jointly launched by Sanya Tourism Board, Atlantis Sanya, Atlantis Dubai and Dubai Tourism Board. It is also an important step of the Sanya Tourism Board to innovate overseas tourism marketing and promotion models.

“I hope this event will not only be an exchange of cuisine and culture, but will also further promote the deepening and expansion of cooperation between Sanya and the Middle East in tourism, culture and other fields,” said Albert Yip, director general of Sanya Tourism Board.

H.E. Mariam Alshamsi, the Consul General of the United Arab Emirates in Guangzhou, also sent a congratulatory letter, wishing the event a great success. She affirmed that the Dubai Food Festival in Sanya is a concentrated showcase of tourism resources in Sanya, China and Dubai, UAE, as well as an innovative exploration of the historical and cultural heritage of both sides.

Cao Minglong, president and chief operation officer of Fosun Tourism Group, which owns Atlantis Sanya, said: “Over the past six years, Atlantis Sanya has been committed to delivering innovative content and excellent services, providing our guests with a spectacular experience and upgrading tourism consumption in Sanya. Looking ahead, we will continue to make breakthroughs, attract more guests from around the world, and turn Atlantis Sanya into a leading tourist destination in the Asia-Pacific region and even the whole world, contributing to building Hainan into an international tourism consumption center.”

On Wednesday evening, combining the legend of Atlantis with the ancient Chinese myth “Classic of Mountains and Seas”, a 20-minute immersive audio-visual show was also held. Thousands of drones soared into the night sky creating a dazzling display of lights and shapes, while tens of thousands of aerial fireworks illuminated the darkness with bursts of color and sound.

China’s relaxed entry rules bring inbound tourism boom, inspire more overseas visitors to explore a real China in person

Foreign tourists wearing traditional costumes visit the Forbidden City to experience traditional Chinese culture in Beijing on March 22, 2024. Photo: VCG

Foreign tourists wearing traditional costumes visit the Forbidden City to experience traditional Chinese culture in Beijing on March 22, 2024. Photo: VCG

Skyscrapers fill the screen. Under the intensive high-rise buildings, Mac Candee and his friend walk on the street. “Today, we have arrived in Shanghai, China.” They say, angling the camera to show a view of their surroundings.

Then, there come clips of Western media reporting on China, with some negative tones that overseas audiences have probably been very familiar with. Only seconds later, Candee reappears on the screen: He stands at The Bund in downtown Shanghai, and behind him is the Huangpu River glistening under the clear blue sky.

“We’re going to be showing you if what you’re told in the media and what you know about China actually match up with what life is like here,” Candee says to the camera.

This is a four-hour video about Candee’s Shanghai trip that he made after he had stayed in the city for six days. 

Candee, a 31-year-old US travel vlogger whose accounts “WorldNomac” have some 2.5 million followers on various social media platforms, is among a surging number of foreign tourists coming to China after the country relaxed its entry policies in recent months.

2024 has become a remarkable year for inbound tourism, since China expanded its 144-hour visa-free transit policy to more countries. In some major transit stops and also tourist destinations, like Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu, visitors from different countries and regions carrying travel bags and cameras flood landmarks and popular restaurants in these cities. They have become witnesses of China’s prosperous tourism market, and have provided some vivid, individual windows for the world to take a closer look at this big Eastern country.

Inbound tourists have a photo taken with a lion dancer on April 6, 2024. 
Photo: VCG

Inbound tourists have a photo taken with a lion dancer on April 6, 2024. Photo: VCG


1st time in China

Months ago, in preparation for his trip to the Philippines, Candee happened to see a YouTube video showing the process of doing a 144-hour transit visa, and learned that visitors from certain countries no longer have to go to an embassy or consulate for a tourist visa to China.

The video inspired Candee to add “China” to his itinerary. “I was like, Oh, I’m actually going to the Philippines. This would be a great time to also at least visit Shanghai and see what China is like,” he recalled. 

Candee had always wanted to visit China. He told the Global Times that China has always been a very interesting country for him with how massive it is, and how big of a percentage of the world’s population is from China. “I wanted to get a small taste of what the culture was like over there,” he said.

In his Shanghai trip vlog, Candee showed how he explored many aspects of the metropolis with his friends. They went to Shanghai’s iconic places like the Bund, the Oriental Pearl Tower, and Jing’an Temple, and tasted lots of food including
sheng jian bao (pan-fried pork bun), hot pot, and a McDonald’s restaurant with localized food. They experienced the city’s public transport from metro trains to the maglev, and talked to many local residents.

As the first stop for many overseas tourists’ trips to China, Shanghai is “a melting pot for multiple cultures” in Candee’s eyes. “It’s a very beautiful city from the standpoint of there’s so much modern architecture, but then you’ll see temples built into the city as well, so you get a mix of old times and new times and modern living,” he told the Global Times. Candee added that he also encountered lots of similar European architectural styles with a Chinese twist.

A frequent global traveler, Candee said that in Shanghai he didn’t encounter massive challenges brought about by cultural differences. Some interesting experiences nonetheless gave him a unique angle to know about Chinese people.

During his stay in Shanghai, Candee went to the “marriage market” in People’s Park, a regular matchmaking venue where locals look for spouses for themselves as well as for their adult children. 

“I thought that was fascinating, that parents of Chinese people will go and essentially advertise all of their children’s qualifications without a photo in order to look for a husband or a wife for them,” he recalled.

“This, for me, was a big culture shock to learn about how they do that, and it was really cool to go and experience that.”

Candee concluded that he likes Shanghai, as “there’s so much to do there.” 

His love for this city was somewhat reflected in the length of his Shanghai trip video: four hours, the longest ever travel vlog he had ever made.

The length of the vlog seems not to be attractive in today’s fast-paced era of hand-held devices. However, the video has attracted more than 200,000 views on YouTube. 

“If you are crazy enough to upload a four-hour long vlog, I am crazy enough to watch it all,” one commented under the video.

Candee felt great about this vlog. 

“A lot of people decided to watch the full length of four hours, which is a large time commitment,” he told the Global Times. 

“This means the country [China] was very interesting, and [in this vlog] there were a lot of perception=changing moments,” he noted.

US travel vlogger Mac Candee Photo: Courtesy of Candee

US travel vlogger Mac Candee Photo: Courtesy of Candee

Warming market

More foreigners like Candee coming to China indicates that, after four years since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, inbound tourism in China has finally entered the fast recovery channel. 

The Global Times learned from domestic travel platform Ctrip that the number of inbound tourists to China in the first four months of 2014 (including air and rail travel) has increased by 244 percent compared to the same period in 2023. The top 10 most popular Chinese travel destinations for inbound tourists include Shenzhen, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing. Inbound tourists mainly come from South Korea, the US, and Singapore, among others. 

Inbound tourism has always been an important symbol of China’s opening-up to the outside world, Jiang Yiyi, director of institute of international tourism development at the China Tourism Academy, told the Global Times.

Since 2022, China has taken many measures to further promote China’s opening-up level, such as visa facilitation, international flights resumption, and more convenient payment for inbound tourists. 

China’s tourism industry is also undergoing a transformation. In the past, foreign tourists came to China mainly for sightseeing. Now, through the restructuring of the domestic industry system, China has provided more diversified products for foreign tourists. Foreign tourists can come for vacation, to participate in sports activities or events, such as marathons and skiing. 

Tourists from Hong Kong and Macao can conveniently go to provinces around the Greater Bay Area such as Guangdong and Hunan for leisure vacations. 

These policies and changes in product systems and industry structures come together and lay a very good foundation for foreign tourists to have more diversified choices, and it is the same with tourists from Hong Kong and Mocao, according to Jiang. 

Data from flight tracker Umetrip shows that as of April 5, the number of inbound flights this year has exceeded 86,000, more than three times that of the same period in 2023, and has recovered to about 70 percent of the same period in 2019; the number of inbound tourists has reached 7.7 million, more than three times the increase compared to 2023, New Weekly reported.

As the inbound tourism market gradually heats up, Chinese travel agencies are getting busier receiving tourist inquiries, launching new inbound products, and developing travel routes during the traditional off-season. A shortage of English-speaking guides and lesser-known languages also occurred.

According to New Weekly, the daily salary of foreign language tour guides in various languages has generally increased. Taking the East China market for example, previously, one could hire an English-speaking tour guide for 500-600 yuan ($69-83) per day before the pandemic, but now it may cost 800-900 yuan; for guides of less common languages, taking Indonesian as an example, the fee can reach 1,000 yuan per day.

The COVID-9 pandemic had a significant impact on China’s inbound and outbound tourism market, leading to disruptions in the industry chain and talent loss. However, the tourism industry is very resilient. With a good business model and development opportunities, talents will definitely come back, Jiang said.

Inbound foreign tourists board a tour bus in Shanghai after arriving at the Wusongkou International Cruise Port on April 6, 2024. Photo: VCG

Inbound foreign tourists board a tour bus in Shanghai after arriving at the Wusongkou International Cruise Port on April 6, 2024. Photo: VCG


Differs from Western narrative

So far, foreign nationals from 54 countries are eligible for the 72/144-hour visa free transit policy to transit to a third country or region via ports and cities in the Chinese mainland. China has also expanded its unilateral or mutual visa-free travel policies to more countries.

Following the new policies is a dramatic increase in the number of overseas vloggers visiting China. According to data by statistics platform Meltwater, during the first quarter of 2024, there were about 2,420 YouTube and TikTok videos containing key words like “China,” “trip,” and “travel” in their titles, five times higher than the same period in 2023.

With more global visitors uploading online their China trip videos with key words like “China is so safe,” and “Riding with world’s fastest bullet train,” overseas audiences find that through these videos, they see a real, fast-developing China that differs from the one under the mainstream narrative in the West.

“I have friends who came to visit China 20 years ago, and they thought China is still the same as 20 years ago because they trust the media 100 percent,” a YouTube user commented under a video of vlogger Alina Mcleod’s trip to Southwest China’s Chongqing. 

“I have been to China so many times,” the user wrote. “If you have not been to the same cities for 10 years, you will see there are big changes.”

Mcleod, the 33-year-old Canadian travel vlogger with some 300,000 subscribers on YouTube, said that her recent trip to China had definitely changed her perception of the country.

“In North America there is a lot of negative press around China,” Mcleod told the Global Times via email. But now after exploring the country in person, she feels that China is quite modern and beautiful. 

“I was very impressed with how much technology and infrastructure they have built in the last few decades, and what a wide range there is of things to see and do in the country,” she said. 

Inbound tourism is a very good window for overseas tourists to “enter” China, get to know China and understand China, because only through this kind of close contact can foreigners know what the real China is like. If they know China only from reports in foreign media, then their understanding of China may be one-sided or fragmentary. Only after truly coming to China and seeing China’s development with their own eyes can they truly see China’s current achievements in all aspects, Jiang noted. 

Canadian vlogger Alina Mcleod 
Photo: Courtesy of 
Mcleod

Canadian vlogger Alina Mcleod Photo: Courtesy of Mcleod

Candee talked about a major misconception that some Westerners may have on China. 

“I think that around the world, a lot of people feel that if you visit China, you’ll be under extreme surveillance and you’ll be, you know, getting in trouble for filming,” he said. “But my experience in Shanghai was that it was a lot less strict than I had imagined,” he told the Global Times. “I filmed a lot. People were really friendly. I think overall everyone was welcoming and happy to welcome foreigners.” 

With beautiful memories of his previous trip to Shanghai, Candee said he wants to visit China again in the near future, and would love to have a local who shares more places with him. 

“Hopefully that’ll be within the next 12 months,” he said.

At the end of Candee’s four-hour Shanghai trip vlog, he walks along the Huangpu River under the clear blue sky, and smiles to the camera.

“In every country I’ve been to, especially ones that have intense perceptions about them, I’ve always found a completely different atmosphere than what the mainstream will share.” he says. “For those of you who have made this so far into the video, you probably are seeing a different look at what China is like.”

South Korean visitors in China surge 909% year-on-year in January as inbound tourism rebounds

Photo:VCG

Photo:VCG

South Korean tourist arrivals in China rose more than nine times year-on-year in January, data released by the South Korean authorities showed, indicating a clear recovery in inbound tourism in the post-pandemic era, according to media reports.

Experts said that multiple factors are driving the growth, including China’s enhancement of tourism promotion, and they predict that international arrivals, including from South Korea, will rise.

Since the end of the pandemic, South Korea’s overseas travel has gradually recovered. In January, 142,000 South Korean citizens visited China, a surge of 908.7 percent year-on-year, with a 9.3 percent increase month-on-month, people.cn reported on Tuesday, citing data from South Korean Ministry of Justice.

The main reason for the substantial rise was that in the same month last year, China had just adjusted its inbound tourism policy and there were relatively few tourist groups as a result, Song Hyun Taek, director of the China division at Modetour Network Inc, a South Korean travel agency, told the Global Times.

The situation quickly changed, and starting from April 2023, the number of South Korean tour groups visiting China began to increase rapidly and has been continuously rising ever since, Song said.

The rebound of South Korean travelers is an epitome of China’s inbound tourism recovery. China’s inbound tourism has resumed in an orderly manner as reflected in the booming trend at several major tourism attractions in the country. 

For example, from January 1 to February 27, Zhangjiajie, a popular destination in Central China’s Hunan Province, received 98,462 inbound tourists, up 34 times compared with 2023, according to CCTV.com.

Many South Korean travel agencies have introduced tailored tourism products for trips to China, with major airlines expanding routes to and from China.

For example, Korean Air is set to resume flights from Incheon to Zhangjiajie and Zhengzhou, Central China’s Henan Province by the end of April, while Jeju Air has announced plans to resume flights from Incheon to Shijiazhuang, North China’s Hebei Province this summer.

The downgrade of the pandemic response encourages South Korean travelers to go abroad. Geographical proximity also plays a significant role, which makes traveling relatively cost-effective, Zhang Huizhi, vice dean of the Northeast Asian Studies College at Jilin University, told the Global Times.

China’s recent enhancements of tourism promotion, including visa-free policies for certain countries, have been instrumental in drawing foreign tourists to the country, said Zhang.

Places like Zhangjiajie are among the most popular group tour destinations, according to statistics from HanaTour, a South Korean travel agency. Beijing, Hong Kong and Macao are also among the top popular destinations.

In addition to the appeal of natural scenery, there are several main reasons why South Korean tourists favor Zhangjiajie. These include the influence of movies and TV dramas, the international standard of tourism facilities such as road signs in the Korean language, as well as the availability of Korean-speaking tour guides, an employee with the China Tourism Office in Seoul told the Global Times.

The China Tourism Academy predicts that the foreign inbound tourism market is expected to recover to 50 percent of 2019 this year.

Global Times